Thursday, December 9, 2010

Malawi ended up as a pariah state against Mozambique



Malawi is one of the African countries to have received their independence at the turn of the 1960s, joining the fray of such countries as Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania, Nigeria, among others, following increased calls for self-rule and independence from former colonial masters. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) member state received independence from Britain on 6th July, 1964, with Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda becoming the first Republican President after serving as Prime Minister for some three years. However, one of the country’s neighbours, Mozambique, remained under the colonial yoke of their masters in Lisbon, Portugal. The Portuguese colony was, however, not spared from nationalistic activities, a clear indication that its people wanted independence from their Portuguese masters. However, various papers discussing the issue of Mozambique’s quest for independence indicate that Malawi, a country it almost extensively covers, apart from some portions it shares with Zambia and Tanzania, played a clandestine role in defeating Mozambique’s independence ego. This paper exposes Malawi’s role and collaboration with Portugal, all of which contributed towards Mozambique’s belated delay to attain independence.

The relationship between Malawi and Mozambique started way back before the pre-colonial era (Partition of Africa in the late 1880s), and this becomes evident when we look at the background of the ethnic peoples of the two countries. A good number of Malawian ethnic groups, including the Lhomwe and Yao, trace their origins from Mozambique. The Yao, for instance, originated from Yao Mountain in Mozambique and came to settle in some parts of Malawi. These parts include districts such as Mangochi, Zomba, Salima, Nkhotakota, Machinga and parts of Mulanje, Dedza. On the other hand, we have such tribes as the Lhomwe- who have now settled in Mulanje, Thyolo and Phalombe districts- which explains why Mozambican delegations still trek to Malawi to be part of cultural commemorations for groups like Mulhako wa Alhomwe. The early inhabitants of Malawi, the Akafula or Abathwa, also settled on both ends, underlining the commonality between the two nations. However, signs of strained relations begin to emerge after the attainment of Malawi’s independence in 1964, as various authoritative papers published so far, relating to the sabotage role of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) member state, confines her (Malawi) in the shade of a traitor, one who tried the best to frustrate Mozambican independence efforts.

This becomes more apparent when we consider former Mozambican President, Samora Machel’s statement in May, 1986. During his visit to Japan, Machel begun a diplomatic campaign against the destabilization of Mozambique and the Southern African Coordination Conference projects by giving emphasis to the role of Malawi as the host, and country of transit of South Africa’s armed bandits. At the Frontline States meeting in Luanda on 21st-22nd August, 1986, the Mozambican government presented a dossier of information which showed proof of Malawian support of the armed bandits, The dossier included copies of new Malawian passports issued to the bandit leaders and letters written by them to members of the Malawi government1.

The development compelled the Front Line States2- which is basically a group of independent states, under the leadership of Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, which was fighting for the independence of Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe’s independence with the aim of inculcating the status quo of independence- to extend a diplomatic offensive on Malawi, forcing Malawi’s other regional ally, apartheid South Africa, to issue direct threats against Mozambique, and in the middle of which president Machel met his death when his plane unexpectedly diverted and crushed in South African territory. At the same juncture, thousands of armed bandits invaded Mozambique from Malawi, further exacerbating already strained relations between the two countries1

Other reports have attributed Malawi’s aggressive role to the background of people who fought for its independence. One of the writers, David Hedges, indicates in a paper on Malawi-Mozambique relations that any explanation of Malawian foreign policy has to begin with an historical analysis of the social basis of the movement which Dr. Banda came to the lead, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), and the process which led Malawi to independence. He says the precursor of the MCP, the Nyasaland African Congress was formed in Blantyre , the commercial capital of the colony, in October 1944. Its teachers were teachers and civil servants who wanted unify their claims for betterment of the education system, as well as pay increase for workers and reform in prison conditions. Owing to measures imposed by the colonial regime after 1950, which impeded the direct participation of teachers and civil servants in political activities, wealthy peasants, progressive chiefs, businessmen and traders substituted them in the leadership of the congress, whether in the central or in the local organization1.

However, internal disputes led to polarization, making it entirely difficult for any of the early founders of the party to become Republican President. Some of these, as trends in the 1950s indicate, included the likes of Henry Chipembere and Kanyama Chiume, young intellectuals trained overseas, together with Dunduzu Chisiza, an activist deported from Southern Rhodesia for nationalistic activities. Tired of passive strategies, these young intellectuals urged for a more militant strategy against the colonialists. Part of which strategy included the calling-back-home of erstwhile physician, Kamuzu Banda, who made a triumphant entry into Malawi and subsequently became Malawi’s first president as a colourful occasion held at Rangely Stadium in Blantyre. Dr. Banda, who had lived abroad for 43 years had been the Congress delegate in London from 1945 until his departure for Ghana in 1953, was congress by party followers as the only figure capable of by-passing the differences of class, generation and education, which existed at the heart of the Congress movement. In fact, at the time, Banda was one of the most radical and ambitious members of the party, having been profoundly influenced by the intensification of racism in social-political institutions of South Africa and Southern Rhodesia after the second World War. This becomes clear when we learn that, according to Hedges, in a 1949 memorandum against the proposed Central African Federation, he wrote of the servitude from which only a major war and a major revolution could ever free “our brothers and sisters across the Limpopo”. In the same document, he manifested his solidarity with the oppressed of Southern Rhodesia.

This indicates, without doubt, that Banda was ambitious. There is also clear evidence showing that, at least from 1961, the MCP aimed to expand its power in Mozambique territory in the same social category as that which constituted its local leadership. As an analysis of the situation in Tete province reports, referring to 1961:

It was above all among the black petty bourgeorse that Malawi Congress Party propaganda was activated. Clerks in the state apparatus, canteen and lorry owners, nurses in the Moatize Coal Company, workers in the anti-impanosomiasis programme and even prominent members of the rural government apparatus – all these circulated on both sides of the frontier, bringing ideas, selling membership cards and gaming new adherents. They organized meetings and some effective activities… In all these meetings came the assertion that “after the independence of Nyasaland and limit will be the Zambezi.Propagandists of the Malawi Congress Party in Moatize…instead of arguing for the independence of Mozambique, advocated instead the integration of the whole region into Malawi1

This thus offers us insight into the thinking of Banda after Malawi’s attainment of independence. Other than fighting for the independence of Mozambique, Banda was visionary enough to understand that Malawi was a land-rocked country (without direct access to the sea or ocean) and thus needed Mozambique’s strategic position (in terms of communication and direct access to ports) and wanted part of the country to become part of Malawi, so his land-rocked country could have access to ports and, in the process, reduce the cost of transport3.

The expansion of the ruling Malawi Congress Party in Tete was, at this stage, already linked to the possible annexation of part Mozambican territory to Malawi. No wonder, then, that during the same year, sympathizers of the Malawi Congress Party in Tete formed the National Union for Independent Mozambique, which was based in Malawi and had strong ties to Malawi Congress Party. In this guise. Malawian expansionism took on a more subtle form. Notwithstanding that the National Union for Independent Mozambique was one of the parties which merged to form Flerimo, some of its members, including its leader, Chagonga, preferred to disassociate themselves and return to the locally based sectarianism which it implied. Pointing out the very episodic nature of Chagonga’s collaboration with Frelimo, and also his prestige among the state appointed chiefs in the frontier districts, the same report concludes that during the same time as Frelimo, in its 1st Congress, appealed for total and complete independence for the country, an independence of the exploited classes which would be gained only by armed struggle, given the intransigence of the colonial power, Chagonga advocated peaceful negotiations with the colonial government, with the vague aim of independence for Tete in mind4

In fact, in the following years, Frelimo succeeded in establishing cells in the main centres in Malawi and even in transporting arms through the country. Despite and perhaps because of increasing popular support for Frelimo, Malawi augmented its actions against Mozambique political unity: it became the base not only of the National Union for Independent Mozambique, but also of other deserters from Frelimo, who attempted to recruit Mozambican refugees for other separatist organisations such as COREMO and the second UDENAMO . Of more importance during this period as well was the development of close relations between Malawi and Portugal as, conscious of the decolonization process in Malawi and of the apparent pretensions of the Malawi Congress Party in Tete province, the Portuguese government begun diplomatic manoeuvres. Portuguese Prime Minister, Salazar, had a close confidant called Jorge Jardim- a Portuguese businessman based in Beira, Mozambique. Jardim even visited Banda for the first time towards the end of 1961, at a meeting held secretly that Banda’s cabinet ministers did not know its contents5.

It is, however, certain that the mutual economic advantages of cooperation on railway transport were discussed. In particular, the Mozambican colonial government wished to develop the port of Nacala and the Northern railway line, installations which, despite having great technical potential, were considered in the early 1960s to be extremely unprofitable, owing to the low volume of traffic. In addition, the extension of the Nova Freixo (now Cuamba) to Malawi constituted part of the Portuguese strategy to capture more traffic and foreign exchange resulting from the expected economic development of Malawi, and at the same time, to further the development of the provinces of Nampula and Niassa. In light of these developments, which definitely dissuaded Banda from taking part in efforts aimed at fast-tracking the independence of Mozambique, the Malawi President even visited the Portuguese association in Limbe, Malawi on 30th March, 1962.

Banda assured the Portuguese community, Banda assured them of his commitment to continue good relations and, particularly, of his desire to see the railway link between Malawi and Nova Freixo. He then visited Lisbon, where he expressed his interest of the railway after independence. It is probable that the control of Mozambican nationalists in Malawi was also discussed. This was further reinforced by Salazar’s close interest in, and supervision of, Portuguese policy in Central Africa after 1963. What is more? The memoirs of the then Portuguese Foreign Minister make clear the principal objective was to ‘capture’ Nyasaland and its Prime Minister (then Banda) before independence. However, since Malawi already attained independence before the Portuguese achieved their aim of ‘capturing’ Malawi and its Prime Minister (who later became president, Banda), Portugal then promised to give Banda a portion of Mozambique if he frustrated nationalistic efforts6

All these developments added to Banda’s old vision of annexing part of Mozambique. As Kanyama Chiume indicated in his autobiography, Kamuzu wanted to grab the Northern part of Mozambique in his quest to expand his country’s territory. He points out, in the autobiography, that Portuguese emissaries also appear to have reinforced the historical ideology which Banda used to justify his closer relations with Portugal to himself and to cabinet colleagues. According to Chiume, the Portuguese gave Banda a large map of south east Africa, informing him of the great extent and importance of the old Maravi ‘empire’ in Mozambique (referring to the pre-colonial relations of ethnic groups presently living in the two countries)7.

Kamuzu also envisioned the establishment of a large ‘empire’ in his bid to exert influence over a large chunk of Southern Africa, some of whose ambitions violated the African Charter 11. This led to Malawi’s withdrawal, from mid 1964, from proposed political and economic collaboration with other east African countries, particularly Tanzania, which marked a further step in the alignment of Malawi with the racist regimes of Southern Africa. Some of these countries include apartheid South Africa. Malawi’s conduct not only separated Malawi from other countries, cabinet ministers were not happy as well. Other divergences were based on the question of establishment of diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, the social policy of the government. Banda’s evident lack of interest in his own ministers and his preference for the advice of expatriate civil servants made Malawi an alien state and a one-man show, which show was being run by Kamuzu.

Tension between Malawi and Mozambique still continue even to this day. A good example is the invasion of Malawian border guards into Mozambique in August, 2009, which prompted some Mozambican citizens to suggest that Malawi’s actions should be punished by making sure that it’s Shire-Zambezi Waterway project does not see light at the end of the tunnel. There were also suggestions that Malawi’s President, Bingu wa Mutharika, be denied access to Beira. This happened at a time Mutharika was on an official visit to Mozambique, a visit he had to cut short following the border issue. The following story, published on the first page of the August 19th 2009 edition of Nyasa Times sheds more light on the current relationship between the two countries. The story said Mozambican authorities had suspended for policemen for allowing eight Malawian border guards to invade a police station along the Malawi-Mozambique border in Dedza. The Mozambican officials had grabbed a bicycle from a Malawian national, Peter Kalinda, who wanted to buy maize in Mozambique without a border pass. Comments from Malawi also shed more light on the relationship, as most Malawians attacked the Mozambican government for putting up stringent measures on Malawian citizens when Mozambican people, on the other hand, are permitted free-range movements in Malawi, some of them even reaching such cities as Blantyre to buy merchandise without being asked a permit. Most Malawians also felt that Mozambican citizens use the country’s health centres without any hassles.

Former Mozambican President, Joachim Chissano, also rendered credence to the bad blood between the two countries when he told former Ghanaian president, John Kofour, that he, and his fellow Frelimo compatriots, used to camp and operate from Malawi’s Chilobwe Township (In the commercial city Blantyre). She bemoaned, however, that they were operating under problems8.

In summing up, we find that from Malawi’s behaviour during the time Mozambique was fighting for independence, Mozambicans took more time to gain independence because of Malawi’s behaviour. Malawi thus qualifies to be called a ‘pariah’ state because the country’s efforts affected many other countries, not counting on its efforts to frustrate attempts aimed at creating a unified voice both for Southern African Development Community countries and Front Line states. Malawi’s frustrating efforts also affected the country’s development agenda since it relied on a polarized pool of development partners- notably South Africa, Portugal, and the white minority leadership of Zimbabwe. The effect of this behaviour comes more clearly when we learn that the blockade of the railway line in Mozambique, owing to South Africa’s sabotage activities, also affected Malawi’s fuel reserves, which resulted into Banda’s complaints to the apartheid government of South Africa. Though the South African government assured Malawi that the sabotage activities were not intended to harm Malawi and its fuel reserves, but were instead aimed at the Mozambican government, the impact could still be felt in Malawi, as seen by South Africa’s decision to help solve the problem by air-lifting fuel to Malawi. This was, however, a temporary solution and exposed Malawi’s vulnerabilities without the support of neighbouring countries such as Mozambique.

Malawi’s behaviour was both retrogressive and counterproductive. In fact, Malawi played the role of as pariah state and showed counter-productive tendencies by thwarting the independence efforts of a country it shares borders with, in preference to a European country (Portugal) and white settlers. It will take a long time for Malawi to shed off this negative image. This could explain why Mozambican border and police officials treat Malawian citizens harshly, as reported by The Daily Times 18th July, 2008 on its forth page in a story that featured a Malawian national (Michael Chanza) who stays along the Mozambique-Muloza border. Chanza was admitted to Mulanje District Hospital between 1st July and July 11 allegedly after being beaten up by Mozambican officials. Another incident was reported in Makanjira, Mangochi, where Mozambican border officials snatched 11 bicycles from Malawian nationals on grounds that they passed over to the other side of the border, while three of the victims were caught farming on the Mozambican side of the border. This happened despite the victims owning gargens in Mozambique for more than 40 years.


1. David Hedger, Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 15, No. 4, October 1989: Notes on Malawi-Mozambique Relations, 1961-1987

2. Peter Barker, Southern African History, pp. 76; History of the Front Line States, 1995

3. Cardenos de Historian: Bulletin of the Department of History, Edwardo Mondlane University, Maputo. No. 6, November 1987. 20, 12 1986

4. Ibid…pp. 9-10

5. Nogueira, Salazar, Vol. V., ;PP., 414, Henderson: ‘Relations of Neighboriness- Malawi and Portugal 1964-74

6. Historic de Mozambique, Mimeo, 1984: and, Gottfried Wellrner, ‘Malawi dossier’ (Draft). Edwardo Mondlane University/Centre of African Studies, December 1986, pp., 76

7. Chiume, Kwacha, an autobiography pp., 167

8. M.D.D Newitt, ‘The early history of the Maravi’: Journal of African History; 23 1982,pp., 145-162

1 comment:

mufti said...

this is very interesting,Malawi was being used by other wonder leaders in Malawi use the citizens in their own way...the problem started from way back.